The USL title will be decided at in Kentucky for the second year in a row as defending champions Louisville City FC look to hold off Didier Drogba’s Phoenix Rising FC in the USL Cup Final tonight.
Phoenix is making their first ever appearance in the championship game after taking care of Western Conference regular season champions Orange County SC last Saturday night. They made it this far in large part thanks to both Drogba, who has a goal in all three Rising playoff games and has seven overall in only eleven matches all season, and Chris Cortez, who has 19 goals in the regular season and playoffs combined and scored 66 seconds into last weekend’s Western Conference Final.
Phoenix had never won a playoff game in its first four seasons as a club before this year and they would like to give their player-owner Drogba a proper send off from professional soccer. Tonight’s game will be Drogba’s final game as a player, but he is still going to play a big role in helping Phoenix land an MLS team as one of the club’s co-owners.
On the Eastern side, Louisville City hammered the New York Red Bulls II in the Conference Final last week. Cameron Lancaster in their player to watch. He only has one goal in three postseason games, but he led all of the USL with 25 goals in the regular season. Brian Ownby is another attacking talent who’s caught fire in the playoffs. The veteran midfielder has three goals in three games in the playoffs after going goalless in the entirety of the regular season.
This stage is quite familiar for Louisville City, since they won the trophy a year ago in an extra time win over Sporting Kansas City’s reserve side, the Swope Park Rangers. They’ve reached at least the Eastern Conference Final in each of their four seasons as a professional club.
They have excellent home form, having won their last ten matches at Louisville Slugger Field. Phoenix, however is a tough team to play outside of Arizona. They have ten wins away from home on the season, including last week’s win at Orange County.
Both sides enjoy tremendous support in the second tier. Louisville averaged 7,891 fans for their regular season home matches, which was good for fifth in the league. They should have a packed house tonight on their home pitch. Phoenix had the eighth best attendance number in the USL with an average of 6,381 fans and has brought some travelling support to Kentucky after drowning out the home faithful against Orange County last week.
Kickoff for tonight’s match is at 8 p.m. Eastern time and you can watch in on ESPN2.